Working With Hermes

Working With Hermes April 1, 2016

I often find it challenging to speak about my own spiritual life in Unitarian Universalist contexts. So much of my inner life is so at odds with the super rational faith of my childhood, and throughout my life, I have had just enough conversations with fellow-UUs who were dismissive and contemptuous that I have a certain inherited fear of talking about certain things. In my experience, we often respond to our theological diversity by finding a narrow section of common ground and staying there. It’s safer and more comfortable in many ways, but it does us a disservice in the long run, I think. Maybe it’s time we collectively took the risk to say more clearly what we experience and believe, the way we each meet the world. How else can we really claim to be a space for multiple paths? Here’s an example of what that might sound like.

Several years ago, I was taking an online Witchcraft class through the Temple of Witchcraft. We were learning about correspondences and how to use them, so there was a whole series of exercises that all involved doing something for each planet. So, we worked with stones and herbs, colors and shapes that were associated with the planets. Each time we did work like this, for most of the planets, I could get a sense of its energy, either clearly or sort of vaguely. But every time I did anything associated with Mercury, I had a much stronger connection, and I began to sense an actual personality attached to all my work with the messenger planet. So began my work with the God Mercury-Hermes.

Public domain photo of Hermes in Stuttgart.
Public domain photo of Hermes in Stuttgart.


Hermes is not the God I expected to claim me. As a child, I was fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology, but I was most drawn to Athena and Hestia. Given my general approach to rules and order, Apollo is much closer to my own natural personality. But it was Hermes who showed up and started asking for my attention. It does make a certain kind of sense that someone who essentially talks for a living (preaching, teaching, and counseling together making up such a huge part of ministry), would be a partner for the God of communication.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about Hermes in the time I’ve been working with him. He is a God of paradox. Though he demands that I only speak the truth, his own relationship to truth-telling is much looser. Hermes is one of the Gods who can claim entrance to all three worlds, the Upper world of Olympus, the Middle world of human beings, and the Underworld of the dead. In fact, it is often his job to bring people between the worlds. That leaves him, though, without a single place where he seems to truly belong. The messenger, the helper, the escort of the dead. He seems never to be still.

Early on in my work with him, I wrote the following poem to Hermes. Feel free to use it in any way that would be helpful to you, with credit given both to me and to Hermes himself, who, after all, is the inspiration for so many words.

Oh I would sing of you, great God Hermes,
The Son of Zeus, the son of Mia.

I would sing of you, great God Hermes,
Escort of Persephone and father of Eleusis.

I would sing of you, great God Hermes,
Messenger, herald, emissary of the Gods.

I would sing of you, great God Hermes,
Thief, liar, and creator of lyres.

I would sing of you, great God Hermes,

Lover of gods and mortals, men and women, ruler of the rainbow.

I would sing of you, great God Hermes,
Swift-footed, never still, lover of heroes, and inventor of wonders.

I would sing of you, great god Hermes.

But how?

Oh thou God of song and tongue
God of creative genius and spoken truth.

How shall I sing of you unless you will give me the words?

How shall I sing of you unless you will give me the tune?

Come, then, Hermes. Father of Eleusis, father of Pan.
Be my father too, and teach me to sing of your glory.

Let my tongue be still until you fill it with speech.

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